In this last of my posts on archaeology and early Israel, I will focus attention on what is perhaps one of the biggest hang-ups that critics have with the historical trustworthiness of the Old Testament – the Exodus & Conquest. In the biblical record the two events stand or fall together. If there was an exodus as the Bible states, then there was also a military conquest which followed it. Both of these events (if they happened), should be discernible from the historical and archaeological record. If we follow the Pentateuch’s exact account, then we know that there was a 40 year interval between the exodus and conquest.
Because of the nature of the subject matter, it has been very difficult to condense the massive amounts of research about this into a blog format. Even now it’s probably too long for a blog (I tried to be as brief as I could!). Many Christians and skeptics, however, consistently ask me about this, so I felt it necessary to try to summarize, as best as possible, an affirmative view of the historical events recorded in the Pentateuch and historical book of Joshua.
Of course, the origins of ancient Israel, the Exodus and Conquest, is an ongoing debate among NE archaeologists and scholars and I am sure it will be until Christ comes again! What I hope to show below are the main supporting pillars of the case that the Bible’s account of Israel’s exodus from Egypt and subsequent military excursion into Canaan happened exactly as the Bible states.
First, let’s review what we have established so far (in the previous blog articles)
Back to Chronology (What Time Frame Did it Happen?)
As we have stated before, the precise dating of the events in the Bible is the KEY to discovering them in the archaeological record! Another word for this, is chronology. To review, Eugene Merrill summarizes about the likely year in which the Exodus took place:
According to 1 Kings 6:1, the exodus occurred 480 years prior to the laying of the foundations of Solomon’s temple. This Solomon undertook in his fourth year, 966 B.C., so the exodus according to normal hermeneutics and serious appraisal of the biblical chronological data, took place in 1446 [B.C.].
This dating scheme has been called the “Early-Date Exodus/Conquest Model” and if it is the correct time frame of the Exodus & Conquest, then this would place the supposed Conquest between the archaeological eras known as the Late Bronze I (1550-1400 B.C.) and the Late Bronze II (1400-1200 B.C.).
The Identification of the Pharaoh – Amenhotep II
From this date (circa, 1446 B.C.), and knowledge of the 18th Dynasty in ancient Egypt (which we discussed in a previous post), it was Amenhotep II who was the Pharaoh of the Israelite exodus and not Rameses II as many people currently believe. When we explore further into the life of Amenhotep II, a picture emerges which is quite consistent with what the Bible states concerning this king and some of the momentous events which happened during his reign. From what we know of Egypt’s pharaohs, inscribed on tombs, walls, and monuments, they didn’t record military losses, only victories. So it is highly unlikely that some future archaeologist is going to find an inscription where Amenhotep II touts that a foreign “god” [i.e. Yahweh of the Jews] made a mockery of the Egyptian gods (including the Pharaoh who was himself considered a god), defeated his armies in the desert, and safely delivered an enslaved people to freedom. What we do see in Amenhotep II, however, is a radical change in his foreign policy (which was very much unlike him), a re-alignment of his Naval forces which he used to launch military forays into Asia, and a religious “crisis” which led to the defacement of many Egyptian “gods” in the 9th year of his reign. Hmmm… I wonder what that crisis could have been?
The Abandonment of Avaris During the Reign of Amenhotep II
Archaeologist, Douglas Petrovich at the University of Toronto has written a fascinating article which explores the precise timing of the abandonment of the ancient Egyptian city of Avaris during the Egyptian 18th Dynasty. In the article, Petrovich explores the various theories about the exact timing of the abandonment of the city of Avaris which seems to coincide with Amenhotep II. The significance of this and its possible relevance to the exodus, is that it is indirect evidence of a major crisis event which happened in the 9th year of Amenhotep’s rule. That event could very well be the Israelite exodus. This is not exactly what Petrovich is stating in the article, but it could be what he is implying. The timing is exactly in line with the “Early-Date Exodus/Conquest” model.
At the end of the article Petrovich makes some starling observations in his conclusions:
More inscriptional evidence may attest directly to the Year-9 crisis is Amenhotep II’s commissioning of a decree for his couriers to destroy all the images of the gods, singling out Amun-Re in particular. Given that Thutmose III and Amenhotep II expressly ascribed praise to Amun-Re for military victories on their Asiatic campaigns, and that Amenhotep II originated and/or perpetuated the desecration of Hatshepsut’s images throughout Egypt, there is plenty of reason to hypothesize that the religious crisis—and subsequent decree to destroy all the “bodies” of Egyptian deities throughout the land—may be intricately bound to the military and political turmoil of his Year-9. Moreover, a potential interruption in the high priesthood of Amun during this time may also attest to this “perfect storm” of events. Therefore, a religious crisis focused on Amun-Re at this time may have been initiated by Amenhotep II as a result of a devastating loss in battle which coincided with the abandonment of their principle naval base from which military operations into Asia were launched, and led to an unavoidable shift in foreign policy.
Why would Amenhotep II order the destruction of the images of Egyptian gods? Why was there major turmoil & upheaval in Egypt’s religious practices? Why was there a complete change of foreign policy with regard Egypt’s nearest neighbors in Asia [in the Levant] in the later part of Amenhotep II’s reign? This evidence alone does not prove the exodus, but it is certainly consistent with the behavior of an autocratic & military ruler such as Amenhotep II, if such an event such as the biblical exodus took place. The exodus was an event in which Egypt’s gods were rendered impotent and pharaoh’s military forces were drastically reduced. I submit that the exodus, as it is exactly described in the Bible, is the most reasonable explanation for this turn of event’s Amenhotep II’s rule.
Jericho & the Conquest
According to the Bible, immediately following the exodus, the Jews wandered in the wilderness for four decades (40 years). Because of time & space, I’m not going to wade into the debate (in this blog) about the location/identification of the Red Sea? or Reed Sea? crossing or the identification of Mount Sinai. I’m not ignoring it, but shelving it for another post some day. That is a very interesting story in it’s own right. For now let’s look at evidence of a “Conquest” which, according to the Bible, took place approximately 40 years after the exodus. This would place the conquest at or around 1401-1406 B.C. (assuming the exodus was in 1446 B.C.).
In the 1920’s and 30’s it was assumed by most archaeologists working in Israel and the Near East that there was a mass exodus of Israelites from Egypt and a military campaign by the Israelites in the Levant [the land that comprises modern day Israel today] as the Bible states. In the 1930’s archaeologist John Garstang working at Tell es-Sultan (or the ancient city of Jericho) found a destruction and wall breach at city IV. He dated the layer to approximately the Middle Bronze III period, the time frame in which the purported conquest of Israel took place. Years later in the 1950’s British archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon, excavating at Jericho adjusted Garstang’s dating of city IV to around 150-200 years earlier. In essence, this re-dating by Kenyon took away the conquest as described in the Bible.
Since the time of Kathleen Kenyon’s re-dating of John Garstang’s city IV at Tel-Jericho archaeologists, have placed the date of the exodus at around 1290 B.C.. This date in turn, affects the dating of the conquest and its precise location in the archaeological record. Like a row of dominoes, the re-dating of city IV at Jericho by Kenyon had a ripple effect on all subsequent discussion of an Israelite presence on Canaan. If the purported exodus took place in the 1200’s B.C. then this would in turn affect how we look at both events historically. Consequently, since that time, there have been a number of theories about Israelite origins and identity in Canaan [the Levant]. Who exactly were these people? Why did they begin to identify themselves as Israelites? Here are three of the main theories today about the origins of Israel.
The Peaceful-Infiltration Model (also called The Traditio-Historical Model)
This theory was proposed by Albrecht Alt in his article “The Settlement of the Israelites in Palestine,” which appeared in Essays on Old Testament History and Religion (Oxford: Blackwell, 1966) According to Rasmussen, “What Alt proposed was that instead of a ‘conquest; as described in Joshua 1-11, that there was a gradual, but growing influx of nomads (or seminomads) with their flocks from the eastern deserts into the central hill country. These incursions were initially temporary, as the infiltrators searched for pasturage, but eventually settled the sparsely populated gaps between urban centers – thus the ‘Peaceful-Infiltration Model.’”
The Peasant-Revolt Model
The Peasant-Revolt model was put forth by George Mendenhall in the 60’s which suggested that the origin of Israel (ca. 1250-1100 B.C.) was not the result of a military conquest but rather the idea that the self-identified “Israelites” grew out of the indigenous shepherds, peasants and farmers against their Canaanite rulers.
The Agricultural-Resettlement Model
This model arises from the results of archaeological surveys done in the central hill country of Israel and the material & architectural remains which were discovered in those surveys. The research seems to indicate that at around 1200 B.C. there was no conquest or peaceful infiltration at all. One of the main proponents of this theory today is Israeli archaeologist, Israel Finkelstein. To understand this view Rasmussen provides a succinct statement by Finkelstein himself: “Finkelstein writes that ‘the emergence of early Israel was an outcome of the collapse of Canaanite culture, not its cause. And most of the Israelites did not come from outside Canaan—they emerged from within it.’” Finkelstein’s conclusions are based on sweeping, unproven assumptions and a radically skeptical view of the biblical record.
POTTERY & THE REDATING JERICHO
All of the theories listed above assume an exodus date of around 1290 B.C. and none of them correspond to a military conquest like the one described in Joshua 1-11. Why then, do archaeologists and scholars not accept the biblical account of events and opt for more skeptical theories concerning the text? The short answer is that archaeologists are not as objective with the evidence as one might presume. The archaeological evidence must be interpreted and archaeologists have skeptical presuppositions and philosophical assumptions just like other scientists. A case in point is the dating of Jericho.
When John Garstang excavated in Jericho in the 1930’s and he dated city IV to the Late Bronze age, he was using pottery to date the site. As most people are generally aware, archaeologists have been using pottery to accurately date tells for decades. The science of dating archaeological sites by pottery is called “ceramic typology.” Ceramic typology, or pottery dating, was established by such notables as William Foxwell Albright, G.E. Wright and Nelson Glueck.
In the early 90’s an archaeologist named Dr. Bryant Wood (PhD, University of Toronto), began to question Kenyon’s interpretation of the pottery and dating of Jericho.
In short, Wood maintains that Garstang’s original dating of Jericho was correct and that Kenyon was wrong. Wood based his conclusions not on his opinion or his ideas about the Bible, but on the evidence of the pottery itself! If the dating of archaeological sites should be based on pottery and other historical considerations (such as the chronology of Egypt’s pharaohs), then all of the evidence from Tell Jericho argues for its destruction and burning around 1401-1406 B.C. All of the evidence from Jericho at this time (ca. 1401-6 B.C.) fits the biblical record in an amazing way, from the details about the city being burned along with everything in it [offered to God as a burnt offering] (see Joshua 6), to the walls having dwelling places [houses] where Rahab helped the Jewish spies enter the city to spy its defenses (Joshua 2).
Continuing research at Jericho and now new research at Tel-el Maqatir (biblical Ai?) is yielding results that confirm the biblical record of Joshua’s conquest in amazing ways. Most critical scholars place Ai at et-Tell but there is no archaeological evidence of a destruction there which fits the biblical description. However, just one kilometer west is another site (Tel el-Maqatir)which very well could be the biblical site of Ai. This conclusion is based, once again, not on opinion but on hard evidence.
This is an exciting time to be alive if you are a person who trusts the biblical account of the past! Every day as archaeologists continue to explore and research the annals of time, the biblical account of history is confirmed again and again. With nearly every turn of the spade, critics of the Bible are proved wrong.
We have much to learn from the past, especially the Jewish roots of our Christian faith. But like the disciples we are slow to learn and slow to believe in all that has been written.
On the road to Emmaus after His resurrection Jesus rebuked his disciples for their unbelief and their skepticism towards the Torah (the Bible).
“’O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all the prophets have spoken! Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all of the Scriptures [the OT] the things concerning Himself.” (Luke 24:25-27)
After all – is not Jesus the true Yeshua (Joshua)?
**for those interested here is a link to Dr. Wood’s article on Ai
 Eugene H. Merrill, Kingdom of Priests: A History of Old Testament Israel (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1993), 58. (emphasis mine)
 Carl G. Rasmussen, ‘Conquest, Infiltration, Revolt, or Resettlement? What Really Happened During the Exodus-Judges Period?’ in David M. Howard Jr., and Michael A. Grisanti, Editors, Giving the Sense: Understanding and Using Old Testament Historical Texts (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publishers, 2003), pg. 142.
 Douglas Petrovich, ‘Toward Pinpointing the Timing of the Abandonment of Avaris During the Middle of the 18th Dynasty,’ in Journal of Ancient Egyptian Interconnections, Vol. 5:2, 2013, 9-28.
 Ibid., 22.
 Also called “The city of Palms,” the ancient ruins of Jericho are some of the oldest in the world with strata which date back to the PPN (Pre-Pottery Neolithic).
 Rasmussen, 146.
 See his article, ‘Searching for Israelite Origins,’ in Biblical Archaeology Review 14/5: 34-45, 58, 1988.
 Rasmussen, 150.
 A standard text which outlines the proper handling of ceramics (pottery) at archaeological sites is William G. Dever and H. Darrell Lance, Editors, A Manual of Field Excavation: Handbook for Field Archaeologists (Jerusalem: Hebrew Union College—Jewish Institute of Religion, 1978). See especially Joe D. Seger’s chapter, ‘The Pottery Recording System,’ 107-128.
 You can see a full summary of his main research on Jericho here http://www.biblearchaeology.org/post/2008/05/01/Did-the-Israelites-Conquer-Jericho-A-New-Look-at-the-Archaeological-Evidence.aspx#Article
 see, Bryant Wood’s, ‘The Search for Joshua’s Ai,’ in Richard S. Hess, Gerald A. Klingbeil and Paul K. Ray Jr., Editors, Critical Issues in Early Israelite History (Winona Lake, Indiana: Eisenbrauns, 2008), 205-40.